The inventors and the early techniques

As we know it today, photography owes its existence to the efforts of many generations of artists, who sought new means to obtain images as close as possible to reality.

Photo: first photograph in history, 1827, author Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) experimented different ways of fixing images of objects with light on photosensitive materials. The advent of photography was announced in January 1839 almost simultaneously in Paris by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) and in London by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877).

Photo: Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre

Daguerre named the new technique after himself, daguerreotypy, and the result daguerreotype. But the system was also known to the public by the more poetic name of the „memory mirror”, because of the silver support that was polished like a mirror and on which the image was fixed. The daguerreotype could only capture a single image on the silver plate, and multiplication was ruled out. The daguerreotypes were of great fineness and fidelity and were made in small formats. They were also very fragile and, in order not to deteriorate, were mounted in a plush leather case inside and covered with glass, which is why very few daguerreotypes have survived to this day, and why they are also very precious. As they were quite expensive and the technique was new and very complicated, not everyone could take a photo those days. Daguerreotypes were used in our country until 1860. The first camera of this type was bought in 1840, at the „Sfântul Sava” College in Bucharest.

Photo: Talbot’s oldest surviving photo, August 1835

In the same years, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) invented the calotype, a method of photography capable of producing an infinite number of copies, even if they were blurred and could not capture all the details as the daguerreotype did.

In line with the Western novelties, Romanians adopted the new technique in a short time. Both Carol Szathmari and Constantin Sturza-Scheianu executed several portraits of relatives and friends.

In March 1851, the British photographer Frederick Scott Archer (1813-1857) used a new photographic process, based on collodion wedge, thus obtaining a large number of copies. In 1853, André Adolf Eugene Disdéri (1819-1889), a well-known Parisian photographer, experimented with wet collodion clichés and waxed paper, and in 1854 he introduced the carte-de-visite format, which was to revolutionize photography. It was 10.5 x 6.5 cm in size. The historical figure who made this format so popular was the French Emperor Napoleon III, whose 1859 photo session became legendary.

The photographic portraits of the monarchs of Europe, and famous people of the time acquired a special status in the public space. Disdéri became well known and very rich. In 1862 he was selling approx. 2,400 portraits a day! A batch of twenty portraits cost only 20 francs. It was the era of the great portrait galleries launched by famous photographers such as Nadar, Disdéri and Carjat.

The invention of the carte-de-visite and the cabinet formats (which appeared on the market after 1866) allowed an unprecedented distribution of official portraits and was almost universally adopted. The cabinet format had larger image sizes (16.5 x 11.5 cm) mounted on cardboard mounts. Because of these dimensions, this format could be used to capture architectural elements, landscapes or buildings. For this format, the frame was set up like a theatrical production and the client became a sort of actor. This format remained very popular until almost the First World War.

In 1873, the first gelatin-bromide plates appeared, and from there the modern photography was born, then followed the Kodak revolution: 1888 – invention of a roll-film camera; 1895 – the advent of the Kodak pocket camera. Eastman-Kodak monopolized the photographic market for the last years of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century with its message: “You push the button, we do the rest”. No special skills, knowledge of optics and chemistry were required to take photographs, and so amateurs took up photography with passion.

As we have seen, the photographic journey began with daguerreotype, continued with chalotype, then with the wet collodion process, from which came ambrotype and ferotype, also known as poor man’s daguerreotypes, and finally the film cliché.

The Romanian world was informed about the discovery of photography through the press of the time. The first workshops appeared in the Romanian countries immediately after the announcement of the discovery of photography and multiplied as rapidly as they did throughout Europe.

Photo source: wikipedia

Text author: Cristina Boţoghină, head of the History Pedagogy section